N.Y. Worker Who Donated Kidney Tells Boss, 'I Want It Back'
Here's the thing about donating a human organ: There's no return policy.
But that's exactly what scorned kidney donor Debbie Stevens (pictured at left) is demanding, after the Long Island mother was fired from her job shortly after donating the organ to help save her boss's life.
The onetime secretary has filed a discrimination complaint with New York state officials against her former boss, Jackie Brucia, at Atlantic Automotive Group, alleging that she was duped into donating the kidney. Stevens is also weighing legal action, and has become vocal in the press, alleging that Brucia took advantage of her giving nature.
"You hate me so much, and I'm so despicable -- give me my kidney back!" the New York Post quotes Stevens as saying.
While not commenting directly on her case, Harvey Mysel, founder of the Living Kidney Donors Network, says that, before donating, Stevens may have benefited from receiving additional counseling about her reasons for wanting to contribute her organ.
Mysel tells AOL Jobs that transplant hospitals have the responsibility to take care of recipients and donors and "need to vet donors to make sure they are donating for the right reason," rather than, say, to get attention or out of a sense of obligation.
Stevens, 47, says that she was tricked into giving the kidney by Brucia, a controller at the car dealership. Brucia rehired Stevens in 2010, the former secretary alleges, only to ensure that she would have another donor lined up in case a likely suitable donor fell through.
For her part, Brucia, 61, says that she was grateful for Stevens' donation, telling New York radio station WINS-AM: "I have nothing bad to say about her. I will always be grateful to her -- she did a wonderful thing for me."
Stevens had pledged to donate a kidney to Brucia during a 2009 conversation that the women had about Brucia's health problems. Within a few months of returning to Brucia's employ, Stevens says that she was called into her boss's office and asked if she was sincere about her offer, as Brucia's planned donor wasn't a good match. Stevens said that she was and proceeded with the operation.
Because Stevens and Brucia weren't a perfect match, Stevens' kidney went into a national pool, eventually going to a recipient in St. Louis. In still donating her kidney, however, Stevens gave Brucia a better shot at getting the speedy transplant she received.
It was after the operations took place that Stevens contends things got nasty, leading to the complaint that she filed with authorities. Organ transplant surgery requires extensive recovery time, but Stevens alleges that she felt pressured to return to work last September -- less than a month after the surgery -- even as Brucia was still recuperating at home.
According to the Post, Stevens went home sick three days after returning to work. That purportedly didn't sit well with Brucia who, while still convalescing at home, allegedly called Stevens to berate her.
Eventually, Stevens charges, she was demoted and fired.
As Reuters notes, it isn't illegal for a boss to pressure an employee into donating an organ, but it is illegal to pressure workers to return to work while they are ill or recuperating. Stevens was entitled to time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
She was also eligible for reasonable accommodation to her work schedule, since the operation temporarily disabled her.
Stevens' complaint appears to be driven in part by her need for health insurance. Her current coverage will soon run out, she told the Post, leaving her unable to pay future medical and psychiatric bills related to the transplant.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said.
Atlantic Automotive Group has called Stevens' assertions groundless, telling the Post through its attorney that the company acted "honorably and fairly at every turn."